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Supreme Commander

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Gaspowered Games

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PC Preview - 'Supreme Commander'

by James King on Jan. 29, 2007 @ 5:36 a.m. PST

Supreme Commander features a riveting, action-packed storyline, ground-breaking gameplay and genre-defining online multiplayer battles. In the 37th Century, the galaxy is torn apart by three rival factions, each vying to eradicate its enemies from the universe, end the Infinite War and become the reigning power supreme.

Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Gas-Powered Games
Release Date: February 20, 2007

Designed by Chris Taylor and Gas Powered Games, Supreme Commander is hailed as being the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation. The real-time strategy title focuses on large-scale combat between armies of hundreds of units and is situated in a future where three factions battle for power: the United Earth Federation (UEF), Cybran Nation, and the Aeon Illuminate.

The UEF are humans that represent the galactic super-power; they seek to bring order to the rest of the galaxy by forming a unified government that rules over all humans. The Cybrans are cybernetic beings that were created by merging humans with artificial intelligence; they have rebelled against the humans and fight for their independence. The Aeon Illuminate are humans that have been endowed with an alien technology and philosophy; it is their goal to show the rest of humanity the "way," which is apparently best demonstrated through the use of high-powered lasers and sonic weaponry.

When you start a game, you have only your commander, which is a large mech-like entity that acts as a builder unit but also has decent firepower to defend itself. In a standard mission, the objective is to kill the opponent's commander, which means that you can win even if your opponent still has buildings and units on the map. Your commander has the ability to construct the tech level-one buildings that are required to start up your base, and after that, you will need engineer units to advance up the tech tree.

Supreme Commander was not meant to be a fast-paced twitch RTS, since many of the higher-tier units take more than four minutes to produce, and advanced buildings can take over 10 minutes to create. The buildings can be created faster with more workers, but this consumes additional resources. The nuclear missile silo has a default build time of over 80 minutes. I built one with seven level-three engineers, a couple of level-two engineers, my commander, and a support commander, and it still took about 10 minutes. More builders could be added still, but a point is reached where the resource cost prohibits this.

There are two resources in Supreme Commander: mass, which seems roughly equivalent to minerals or gold, and energy, which is similar to gas or wood. The game uses the two-resource paradigm that is similar to titles such as Starcraft and Warcraft. Supreme Commander does alter the formula slightly; energy is treated like a resource, but it is also a measurement of power production, and some buildings require it in order to function.

In general, most of the basic units require more mass and little energy, and advanced units and high-tier buildings, like stealth field generators, require large amounts of energy. Mass is harvested by building mass extractors on resource spots located throughout the maps, and energy is gathered by creating power generators. The extractors can be upgraded to increase production, but you also have the option of building mass generators which use up quite a bit of power but create mass quickly. You have a maximum storage amount for both mass and energy, so you must either spend it or build mass/energy storage buildings, which increase the storage cap, to avoid wasting resources.

For the most part, the races seem to be synchronously balanced. Every race has three tiers of technology, and at each level of tech, the races have access to a set of similar units. At tier one, each race can produce an equivalent to the engineer, tank, scout, mobile anti-air, and artillery at the land factory. At the next tier, each race has a level-two version of the engineer, tank, artillery, and mobile anti-air unit. The air and naval factories are available to all of the races with a similarly balanced tier structure. The races do have a number of noticeable differences; a few unique units exist on each side, and a few units for a particular race might have special properties.

Each race has three experimental units that can be built as well. The main differences between normal units and experimental units are that the latter are constructed by engineer builders and not produced at a building. Also, the experimental units are generally "uber," meaning they take massive amounts of resources and time to create, but they can literally turn the game around or at least even the odds. From nuclear missiles to giant walkers that one-hit almost anything to massive artillery cannons that shoot half way across the map, these late-game techs can certainly produce massive effects. Supreme Commander doesn't seem to be a total race to the ultimate techs, as there are some defenses against them. Protection against nuclear missiles can be constructed, and shields to defend against artillery can be built.

Supreme Commander keeps to the tried-and-true rock-paper-scissors methodology that so many RTS games before it have used. As far as ground units go, it appears that stationary ground defenses defeat mobile ground units like tanks, artillery can outrange and defeat the stationary turrets, and the mobile ground units can close in and defeat the artillery. This isn't a bad thing, as it has been shown to work in the past.

There are seven different terrain environments which include deserts, tropics, tundra, and snowfields. The topology of the maps greatly changes the way games will be played out; some maps require massive naval power, while others have little to no water, and air/land power will play a dominant role.

The controls deviate very little from the standard RTS paradigm. Experienced RTS players will have no problem learning how to play, and will probably be used to the interface after just a few games. One thing that is very unique about the interface in Supreme Commander is how the map system works. The mini-map has been eliminated and replaced by a strategic view. You can zoom out of the normal view all the way to a strategic view where you can see the entire map, and icons represent units and buildings. You can still control units and issue commands on the strategic view, and it is possible to play the entire game from this view. Supreme Commander also has an option to split the screen into separate views, so you can be looking at two different parts of the map at the same time and be able to issue commands in either view. The developers have even set it up so you can put the second view on a separate monitor, for those players with dual screens.

Supreme Commander really strives to make the player feel as if he are in a huge war. The game really focuses on large-scale combat, as the unit cap is set to a massive 500, which allows for large armies to battle it out. There is not a great deal of emphasis put on micromanagement in Supreme Commander, as the emphasis is on macromanagement and strategic planning. Watch for Supreme Commander as it approaches its launch date — it will be one of the major strategy titles of 2007.


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